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Lyle Cherry Orchard Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking down on the town of Lyle from the Lyle Loop Trail (bobcat)
Cherry Orchard Trail sign (Steve Hart)
Columbia desert parsley (Lomatium columbianum), Cherry Orchard Trail (bobcat)
View to Crates Point from the Cherry Orchard Trail (bobcat)
Upland yellow violet (Viola praemorsa), Lyle Loop Trail (bobcat)
Chocolate lily (Fritillaria lanceolata), Cherry Orchard Trail (bobcat)
Old cherry in bloom, Lyle Cherry Orchard (Steve Hart)
Main hiking trails shown in yellow; other options shown as dashed lines (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/MapBuilder Topo
  • Start point: Lyle Cherry Orchard TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Lyle Cherry Orchard
  • Hike Type: Two connected loops
  • Distance: 6.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1340 feet
  • High point: 1245 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year, best in spring and fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: On spring weekends
Poison-Oak
Rattlesnakes
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

Friends of the Columbia Gorge founder Nancy Russell purchased the core of this 500+ acre property and, over the years, added parcels to the west that abut the town of Lyle. Until 2009, the property was under Nancy's name, but then she bequeathed it to the Friends. Long before that, a hiking trail open to the public allowed visitors to climb above the rimrock layers and visit the old homestead site labeled by Nancy as the "Cherry Orchard" after the few old cherry trees that remained. Between 2019 and 2021, the Washington Trails Association added a western loop that crosses the hillside above the town of Lyle and modified the loop trail at the cherry orchard site. The hike offers ever expanding views to the east and west as it climbs to the oak forest that cloaks the upper slopes. Poison oak abounds along most sections of the trail, so stick to path and keep your dog on a leash. The wildflower season here begins in February with the early grass widows and Columbia desert parsley and runs into June.

The unsigned trail begins at the east end of the parking area under an imposing basalt spire. It climbs through a scrub oak forest carpeted with poison oak. Soon reach an old road bed, the remains of entrepreneur Sam Hill's "convict road" (see below). Follow the road to the left. You'll come to a beautiful wooden trailhead sign and a newer map kiosk at the western edge of the defile. There's a boot brush here that you should use both going in and coming out. (The main invasive culprit here is yellow star thistle, which blooms in the summer and fall.) To left of the sign, the convict road runs out to the rimrock cliffs above Highway 14 and the railroad.

The trail leaves the old road and starts up a small draw, which blooms with prairie star, fiddleneck, and lupine in the spring. Switchback up, and arrive at an open meadow blooming with death-camas in April. A user trail leads left across the lower of the two Lyle benches, and here you get views across bright clumps of poison oak to Sevenmile Hill, Crates Point, and The Dalles. To the west, past McCall Point, you'll see the summit of Mount Defiance. Switchback twice more up an open slope which brightens with the yellow blooms of balsamroot in spring. After almost a mile, there's an unsigned four-way junction with the Lyle Loop Trail. The side trail on the left heads west into the large flat area of the upper Lyle Bench. An excursion here offers a great view of the town of Lyle from the west end of the bench. The Cherry Orchard Trail continues up to the right.

Take the middle trail here to follow the Lyle Loop, completed in 2021. Views open up to the Rowena Plateau, McCall Point, Marsh Hill, Chatfield Hill, and Mount Defiance across the Rowena Gap. On the Washington side, you'll see to the Catherine Creek and Coyote Wall areas, with Dog Mountain in the distance. Balsamroot blooms on this grassy slope in the spring, and invasive yellow star thistle also thrives. You'll soon see the entire town of Lyle with the Klickitat River just beyond. The trail passes below the LYLE letters and switchbacks past a ponderosa pine and her offspring to pass into woods of Oregon white oak. Several more switchbacks allow you a glimpse of the snowy summit of Mount Adams as you enter the zone of the Lyle Hill Fire, mainly a grass fire which burned in July 2021. Eastward traverses intersperse with switchbacks as you continue through the oak woods. Deer are frequently seen in the area, and wildflowers abound in the spring. The trail drops into a draw and then passes across an open slope that offers views west. Now you'll gradually wind down through the oaks to reach the Cherry Orchard Trail again.

Bear left on the Cherry Orchard Trail to switchback up to a kissing gate, now no longer a passage through a barbed wire fence (removed in 2015). The trail undulates through an oak wood, carpeted with buttercup and lupine in the spring, to reach the junction with the new loop that circles the cherry orchard area.

Stay left here to pass a small, seasonal pond that's just packed with butterflies in the early spring. Ponderosa pines and chocolate lilies enter the forest mix here. Then you'll come to an old farm road with gate posts and a fence that mark the boundary of Friends of the Gorge and Washington DNR property. Bear right on the old road bed, and soon the trail breaks off it to pass along the eastern edge of the Cherry Orchard meadow. Just past a ponderosa pine, you 'll pass the one remaining living cherry tree, and this gnarly specimen is barely hanging on. This ancient fruit tree is most noticeable in April, when its last productive branch blooms. The other white-blooming shrubs in the area are serviceberry. To the east, there are views to Crates Point, The Dalles, and the Murdock-Dallesport flats on the Washington side. The trail turns to cross the meadow, with its clumps of velvet lupine, and passes a line of poles to enter oak woods. A spur leading left takes you to a great picnic viewpoint that offers more views west and closeups of the cliffs below. A sign at the spur junction asks you to lower your voices so as not to disturb the falcons that nest in the rimrock. Turkey vultures may be circling above. It's a short distance back through spring-blooming buttercups to the beginning of the Cherry Orchard Loop.

Turn left here and follow the trail west to keep left at the junction with the Lyle Loop Trail. The Cherry Orchard Trail traverses down the open slope, where you'll notice yellow balsamroot and the bright green vines of wild cucumber (big root). A couple of switchbacks take you more steeply down to the four way Cherry Orchard-Lyle Loop Trail West Junction, where you'll turn left to descend to the trailhead.

Other options:

1. To extend the hike, you can head north on the farm road onto Washington DNR land to pass a stock pond and reach the powerline corridor. Go left on the powerline maintenance road for some steep ups and downs on the Lyle Hill ridge that take you high enough for glimpses of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens. Turn back when you reach a gate.

2. Either going or coming, you can follow the faint spur trails on the upper and lower benches to the west of the Cherry Orchard Trail.

3. Another option, for careful scramblers, is to follow the track of the Convict Road, which takes you about half a mile towards Lyle, passing above the SR 14 road tunnels. This route is exposed, with gullies of loose scree to negotiate. The road was constructed in 1910 by business mogul Sam Hill using convict labor. Hill was attempting to convince the Governor of Washington, Marion E. Hay, of the feasibility of a system of good paved roads to aid commerce in the state. At some point, Hill lost Hay's support, and the peeved Hill crossed the river to successfully advocate for the Columbia River Highway.

Maps

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Day use only
  • Dogs on leash

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails & Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.